Prison of Peace Turns Inmates Serving Life Sentences into Peacemakers, Mediators, and Trainers
Prison of Peace was created in 2010 by Doug Noll and Laurel Kaufer at the request of inmates at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, CA., the largest women’s prison in the world. Since its inception, Prison of Peace now operates in two California women’s prisons, two men’s prisons, THe Los Angeles County Jail, and internationally in Spain and Greece.
The goals of Prison of Peace are to help inmates develop peacemaking skills to reduce violence and promote peace within their prison community. Prison of Peace is successfully teaching murderers and felons imprisoned for life in the skills of:
- Emotional intelligence
- Moral engagement
These goals are accomplished through intensive training in:
- Verbal communication/listening
- Convening and conducting peace circles
- Convening and conducting mediations to resolve conflicts between inmates
The core training curriculum is a two-part, twelve-week program that follows a customized curriculum for mediation training and restorative justice developed by Kaufer and Noll. The training emphasizes interpersonal communications skills especially in high emotion and high conflict situations. Participants are required to attend and participate in up to 84 hours of class instruction, practice the techniques and processes outside of class, write up their experiences and turn in weekly assignments, conduct 5 peace circles, and observe 2 peace circles. If participants continue with the mediation training, they are required to conduct 3 mediations and observe 2 mediations and write up their experiences and observations. All new participants now work with an inmate mentor/coach developed from earlier courses.
The men and women in this program have experienced dramatic personal transformations. Prison of Peace has allowed them to discover or re-discover their own humanity, become aware of their own emotions, and begin to understand and reflect back the emotions of others. By learning peacemaking and mediation skills, they are taught how people evade personal accountability and how to morally re-engage those who have become morally disengaged. As a byproduct, they naturally have re-engaged themselves morally.
In addition, there has been a qualitative shift in personal interactions in the inmate populations. To date, there has been no reported violence involving any inmates certified as peacemakers or mediators. Personal arguments have reportedly reduced in quantity and intensity. The peacemakers and mediators have been able to de-escalate and resolve conflicts among fellow inmates and between inmates and staff.
By the end of July 2016, over 200 inmates will have been trained as Peacemakers, and more than 75 will have been certified as mediators. Training cohorts are being established in each prison and there are over 25 active inmate trainers spread across the four prisons. Over 12,000 inmates have participated in a peace circle or mediation.
In recognition of their pioneering work, the first 15 women trained as peacemakers and mediators were awarded the Southern California Mediation Association Cloke/Millen Peacemaker of the Year Award for 2010.
Prison of Peace has been contacted by numerous prisons in California, Kentucky, Washington, and New Zealand about the possibility of expanding this project. Prison of Peace is largely a pro bono project, with small grants received from the OPen Meadows Foundation, the JAMS Foundation, and the AAA/ICDR Foundation helping to cover expenses. The website is www.prisonofpeace.org